Big Ten Geeks: Is Indiana No. 1?

In today’s Point/Counterpoint, we tackle a question that has already gotten some play in basketball circles across the nation – has Indiana really gone from an 11-7 Big Ten team to the best squad in the nation?

Point: Yes.

And by “yes,” I don’t mean that Indiana is ranked by some assortment of polls as the #1 team in the country, but rather whether those polls would be right. And they are.

Although, I think a caveat is in order, which is “as long as Nerlens Noel is not as good as Anthony Davis.” If he is (or Shabazz Muhammad, for that matter), then all bets are off. Assuming that Davis outshines anyone in the 2012 class (and by most accounts, that seems to be the consensus), then IU is the Team to Beat.

But I won’t belabor the obvious points in my favor. You know those–IU has the best player in the country in Cody Zeller. Zeller has a tremendous supporting cast that features outstanding outside shooting (Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford), the best glue guy in basketball (Victor Oladipo), and one of the best freshman classes in the country (highlighted by McDonald’s All-American Yogi Ferrell).

Instead, let’s focus on the Why Nots. First, about that defense. Yes, IU didn’t have a great defense last year. But some of that has already sorted itself out. The Hoosiers fouled too much last year, but out goes the Hackmaster Tom Pritchard. The other most foul-prone Hoosier, Derek Elston, is out with an injury for a few weeks (and likely would have lost minutes anyways to one or more of the incoming freshmen). And beyond that, Zeller fouled a bit too much last year–something not all that uncommon for a freshman. But therein lies the good news–Zeller is no longer a freshman.

On that note, that’s a reason to believe that Indiana will rebound better this season. The only real weakness in Zeller’s game was defensive rebounding. Then again, Zeller was a 19-year old playing against guys who had a couple of years in a college weight training program last year. He’s bigger and stronger this season, and there’s no reason not to expect improvement on the glass.

I admit, Indiana will not be a defensive powerhouse this year. But so what? There’s no reason for the offense to miss a step, meaning one should expect the Hoosiers to finish with the best offense in the country. You don’t need a great defense with an offense that good. Just a passable one. Indiana, is back.

– Josh

Counterpoint: No.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel Indiana is a definite top 10 team (and probably higher), but I see too many question marks to say that the Hoosiers are the clear best team in the land. Kentucky and Kansas would be just as reasonable picks in my mind, yet the AP somehow coalesced around Indiana and, to a lesser extent, Louisville. The Hoosiers could very well end up being the best team in the nation, but I’m not even convinced they win the Big Ten.

You talked about defense, and that’s the most glaring weakness, but I also don’t know that the Indiana offense will be as incredible as anticipated, by both pundits and predictive models alike.

Let’s look at what made Indiana’s offense so potent last year:

Value

National Rank

eFG%

55.2

6

TO%

19.1

107

OR%

35.2

59

FTA/FGA

44.5

15

Indiana’s offense was great because of extremely accurate shooting.

Let’s break down the shooting a bit further:

Value

National Rank

3-point %

43.1

2

2-point %

51.5

41

3PA/FGA

27.5

294

The Hoosiers didn’t shoot a lot of threes, but they were incredibly accurate, hitting just over 43 percent from deep. Without the extreme accuracy on threes, Indiana would have been less of a “great” shooting team and more of a “good” shooting team.

Can we expect the three-point accuracy to remain so high?

From 2002-03 to 2010-11 (a span of nine seasons), 87 D1 teams shot 40 percent or better from three. Here’s what happened to them the following season (big chart warning, feel free to skip to the conclusions):

Team Season 3-point % Next season 3-point % Change
Cornell 14 2009 40.3 43.3 3.0
Southern Utah 2005 40.9 43.0 2.1
Marquette 3 2003 40.1 40.6 0.5
San Diego 2004 40.6 40.8 0.2
Cornell 14 2008 40.2 40.3 0.1
Portland 2010 41.3 41.2 -0.1
Denver 2011 40.1 39.9 -0.2
Air Force 13 2006 40.1 39.8 -0.3
Portland 2009 41.8 41.3 -0.5
Utah St. 2008 40.1 39.5 -0.6
North Dakota St. 2007 40.1 39.4 -0.7
St. Mary’s 10 2010 40.5 39.4 -1.1
Pacific 2008 40.0 38.8 -1.2
Notre Dame 2006 40.3 39.0 -1.3
Notre Dame 5 2008 40.5 39.2 -1.3
Western Kentucky 2007 40.2 38.9 -1.3
San Diego 2005 40.8 39.4 -1.4
Illinois Chicago 2003 40.0 38.5 -1.5
Southern Utah 2004 42.4 40.9 -1.5
Bucknell 14 2011 40.0 38.4 -1.6
Northern Colorado 2009 40.3 38.6 -1.7
Eastern Kentucky 2009 40.6 38.5 -2.1
South Dakota St. 2011 41.1 39.0 -2.1
Southeast Missouri St. 2003 40.4 38.2 -2.2
Kansas 1 2010 40.4 38.2 -2.2
Portland St. 16 2008 40.0 37.7 -2.3
Virginia Commonwealth 11 2007 40.1 37.6 -2.5
Utah 2007 41.4 38.8 -2.6
New Mexico St. 2009 40.1 37.5 -2.6
North Carolina 1 2005 40.3 37.5 -2.8
IUPU Fort Wayne 2009 40.8 37.9 -2.9
Weber St. 2011 40.4 37.5 -2.9
Valparaiso 2005 41.6 38.5 -3.1
San Jose St. 2010 40.0 36.9 -3.1
Saint Joseph’s 1 2004 40.4 37.1 -3.3
Utah Valley St. 2007 40.8 37.5 -3.3
Wisconsin Green Bay 2009 40.7 37.3 -3.4
American 15 2008 41.0 37.5 -3.5
Samford 2005 42.1 38.5 -3.6
Brigham Young 8 2007 40.9 37.3 -3.6
New Mexico 2008 42.0 38.1 -3.9
Marquette 2004 40.6 36.6 -4.0
Nevada 7 2007 40.5 36.3 -4.2
Texas Tech 10 2007 41.2 36.9 -4.3
Louisville 4 2005 40.0 35.5 -4.5
Michigan St. 7 2004 40.1 35.5 -4.6
Florida 1 2007 40.9 36.3 -4.6
Northern Arizona 2007 43.7 39.0 -4.7
Bradley 2007 42.2 37.4 -4.8
Western Illinois 2009 40.3 35.1 -5.2
California 7 2009 42.7 37.4 -5.3
Connecticut 2 2004 40.2 34.7 -5.5
Brigham Young 7 2010 41.4 35.9 -5.5
Creighton 10 2005 41.4 35.7 -5.7
Utah St. 12 2010 41.5 35.7 -5.8
Oklahoma St. 2 2005 41.6 35.8 -5.8
Cornell 12 2010 43.3 37.4 -5.9
Brigham Young 12 2003 40.8 34.8 -6.0
UC Irvine 2006 42.0 36.0 -6.0
Oregon 2004 40.0 33.8 -6.2
Texas A&M 3 2007 42.2 35.9 -6.3
Marquette 6 2010 41.3 34.9 -6.4
Southern Utah 2006 43.0 36.5 -6.5
Appalachian St. 2010 40.0 33.5 -6.5
New Orleans 2007 41.4 34.8 -6.6
St. Francis PA 2005 40.3 33.6 -6.7
UC Irvine 2009 40.7 34.0 -6.7
Portland St. 2006 40.3 33.5 -6.8
Wofford 14 2011 40.0 33.2 -6.8
San Diego St. 11 2006 40.0 33.1 -6.9
UC Santa Barbara 2008 40.5 33.5 -7.0
Lehigh 16 2010 40.0 32.8 -7.2
Hofstra 2007 40.8 33.3 -7.5
North Dakota St. 14 2009 40.3 32.7 -7.6
Columbia 2007 40.8 33.0 -7.8
Illinois St. 2003 44.0 36.0 -8.0
IUPUI 2008 42.4 34.3 -8.1
Birmingham Southern 2004 43.3 35.1 -8.2
Arizona 3 2005 40.2 31.9 -8.3
Arkansas St. 2008 40.1 31.4 -8.7
Ohio St. 1 2011 42.3 33.3 -9.0
Brown 2008 40.8 31.7 -9.1
Portland 2011 41.2 31.8 -9.4
Northern Arizona 2011 42.2 31.7 -10.5
Lafayette 2004 40.8 30.0 -10.8
Texas A&M Corpus Chris 15 2007 40.6 28.8 -11.8
Iona 13 2006 40.2 27.8 -12.4
3-point % Next season 3-point % Change
AVERAGE 40.9 36.5 -4.4

Most teams that shot 40 percent or better from three saw a significant dropoff the following season. This dreaded reversion to the mean affected 82 of those 87 teams–only five squads actually improved their three-point percentage after a 40%+ season.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising–after all, it takes a great combination of a skill and luck for a team to shoot over 40 percent from three for an entire season. Doing it two years in a row is a rare accomplishment indeed, one that only five D1 programs can boast having pulled off since 2002-03 (take a bow, Cornell, Portland, Southern Utah, Marquette, and San Diego).

So, while the addition of Yogi Ferrell and a healthy Maurice Creek seems like it should help Indiana’s offense, it might simply balance out a decline in Indiana’s three-point shooting. As a result, the offense could very well run in place, making any true improvements dependent on the defensive end, where concern is certainly reasonable.

If this seems like nitpicking, well, mostly it is. Indiana at #1 is a reasonable pick and has plenty of data to support it. I do personally expect Indiana to compete for a Big Ten title and be in the national title discussion when March arrives. I’m just not prepared to say the Hoosiers are clearly better than the field, but that’s why they play the games, starting tonight (hallelujah!).

– Mike

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2 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (2 Comments)
Sarcastic Mike on 11/14/2012 @ 1:06am EST Said:

Mike, I think you make a very reasonable analysis into the possibility of Indiana maintaining their very high 3 point percentage let alone increasing it. However, if you’ll indulge me in some nitpicking of my own, I’d like to add small point:

As you noted, Marquette was one of those 5 teams that had an improved their 3 point shooting percentage in the year following a 40%+ year. Correlation is not causation, but the coach of that rare team…Indiana’s Tom Crean.

Dick Muldoon on 11/15/2012 @ 5:08pm EST Said:

It’s always important to look at stats, but sometimes you’ve got to question what’s going on at the human level. How many of those 40%+ 3pt. teams, for example, lost/kept their top three shooters? My gut tells me personnel changes have as much (or more) to do with shooting percentage changes than do the normative powers of statistical means.